August 25, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Darkness Rising, Part 5


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1 episode 5: “Darkness Rising, Part 5”

So here we are, finally, at the end of the first big arc of Transformers Prime. The words “it’s been quite a ride” just don’t seem to do this thing justice. After a “previously on” segment, we get a glimpse of what would happen should Megatron prevail in his attempts to bring a bunch of zombies to Earth, and it’s mostly what you would expect: the sky is red, people are screaming, and evil Decepticons are just blasting everything in sight. This is accompanied by a pretty bland voiceover by Optimus Prime, who tells us things that we already know, but it’s a good recap anyway.

We cut to Jack, who’s back at work. I love that you can just see the desperation in his eyes, of how he just longs to be somewhere else than at this grease-pit of a fast-food restaurant, kinda like me at Cross Country practice. Arcee shows up and says that she’s just not ready to say goodbye, and that somehow convinces Jack to come back to the Autobot, possibly due to his guilt over leaving, maybe he likes Arcee enough to not be rude to her, who knows. I think this scene could have been drawn out further so as to better explore why Jack would want to go back, but sadly, this is all we get.

Over at the Autobot base, Optimus comes up with one of the worst plans I’ve ever scene him conjure, and this is coming from someone who sat through Energon, so you know I’m being serious here. Ratchet pinpoints Megatron’s Space Bridge, which is high in orbit over Earth, and the only way to get there is with the GroundBridge. Ratchet explains that the GroundBridge has limited range, and that stretching it that far could be catastrophic, as it could snap and just end up sending all the Autobots across space. Hmmm, okay, well, I guess we’ll have to figure out another way to-

“Since Megatron is likely already in transit, I’m afraid we must take that risk.”

Optimus, I’m sorry, but did you hear what Ratchet just said?! You could be condemning your crew to a life scattered about the galaxy with no way to talk to one another, depleted of energy and doomed to die alone and in space! Hell, what if Megatron is already there and just shoots you down when you enter out of the vortex? What if it snaps and you’re inside? Would you die? Oh, but wait, it get’s better.

Jack returns and the Autobots make their departure. It doesn’t really carry the gravitas that it should, as the humans and Autobots don’t make solid goodbyes that say “yeah, this could be the last time I see you”. Instead it’s more like: “Oh, goodbye, don’t die out there, okay”. Well, of course the GroundBridge thing works, and the Autobots land on the Space Bridge via magnets in their feet. Optimus then makes his plan even worse, as he reveals that they didn’t bring enough ordnance to disable the Space Bridge. Why not? If your plan is to stop Megatron, then just GroundBridge over to his ship, which as we’ve seen can be done because Ratchet had Cliffjumper’s signal up until he died, and he was on the ship for a good minute before that. Plus, the whole destroying the Space Bridge plan doesn’t come into play until later; right now, they’re focused on stopping Megatron from sending Dark Energon through the vortex, so why this line is included at all just baffles me.

The Autobots get tired of just standing there in a cool pose, and Arcee wonders why the Decepticons aren’t doing anything. Optimus notes that the navigation dish is broken (Bulkhead threw the dish in battle last episode), and that without it, they ‘Cons won’t be able to lock onto Cybertron. Optimus ventures that the ‘Cons have an alternate means of locking onto Cybertron’s coordinates, and Raf pipes up that they could be using a networked array of satellite dishes on Earth. While he can’t disable the dishes from the Autobot base, Raf does think that he could get in if he were on site, that if he didn’t have the firewall to block his path, he could have full access to the dish network.

Optimus shows common sense and concern for his human allies. I like this as it ties back into what Jack did last episode, and how the humans were almost killed. It also brings up a point that will be remarked upon later in “One Shall Fall”, when Optimus says that he cannot condone even a single human casualty. Perhaps it is Jack’s leaving that made him decide this, and here he doesn’t want to intentionally put the children in danger.

Jack is actually the one to stick up for Raf, saying that this is bigger than the three of them, and that they’ll have to do this if Earth is to be saved. I like that it’s Jack, the one who was so adamant about not going into war, the one who left because he just couldn’t handle the epic battles of the Autobots, who now advocates for all of this. This is why I think the earlier scene between he and Arcee should have been longer, as I think this would have had more payoff if we knew just what Jack was thinking in coming back here.

On the Nemesis, Starscream and Megatron are just watching the Autobots stand out there. Starscream has some valuable input on the subject:

“Surely, Lord Megatron, the Autobots are… up to something.”

Really, Starscream?”

Megatron just has had enough and orders his whole fleet of Vehicons to destroy the Autobots, and thus begins our long, and I mean long fight for the episode. This whole thing lasts until the end of the episode (albeit with other stuff in between) and it’s pretty cool eye candy.

The kids get into the building, and Raf begins his hacking tricks. Security’s not all that tight though, and we soon see why, as Soundwave is right there in the other room! He locks onto Cybertron, and Starscream reports to Megatron that the Space Bridge is ready for activation. Raf undoes Soundwave’s progress, and Megatron demands to know what’s happening.

“Starscream, what is happening?!”

“Uh, argh! Soundwave, what is happening?!”

Ah, a team effort! Soundwave finds out that the kids are right next-door, and he unleashes one of his Hentai tentacles to go deal with them. This is, admittedly, the less interesting of the two plots this episode, as this has the kids running around trying to defeat Soundwave’s tentacle while Raf shouts gibberish and does computer things. Not the best action sequence ever, but it gives the kids something to do. Soundwave cuts the hardline, permanently affixing the dishes, and the Space Bridge, onto Cybertron. The kids catch him before he leaves, and Miko takes a picture of him. He returns the gesture. I like this bit! It’s so creepy! That picture would come back to haunt everyone in “Darkest Hour”.

Well, things are grim. The ‘Cons have a lock on Cybertron, the kids have failed, the Space Bridge powers up, and the Autobots in space have no way of turning it off. What’s worse is Megatron throws his supply of Dark Energon through the portal, and we see the beginnings of that scene from the beginning of the episode, where it crashes onto Cybertron and begins raising the dead. Megatron is having fun with alternative vocab words for “army”:

“ARISE, MY LEGION!!!”

The Autobots are pretty much screwed, so Optimus has to make a rather balsey decision. He proposes that they blow the Space Bridge, as there is enough live Energon here to blow it up. Ratchet is pretty miffed about this, but a sound word from Optimus quiets his nerves. Ratchet and Raf pull up schematics on how to blow the Bridge, and Optimus prepares for the big showdown:

“Autobots, take your positions and follow Ratchet’s lead, while I make my stand.”

Megatron comes along and mocks Optimus’ crew, but this is Peter Cullen, the guy whom to most is thought of as the voice of the homicidal face-ripping skeleton leader of the Autobots, so it should come as no surprise that here, Optimus is as merciless as ever:

“I hold no illusions about engaging your army, Megatron. But I might derail its objective by removing its head.”

Drawing swords, the two go at it, and while not as intense or badass as their brawl in “One Shall Fall”, this one is still pretty good. Megatron gets the upper hand, relieving Optimus of his sword by just slicing it off his arm, and prepares to make the killing blow, but Starscream intervenes.

“Master?”

“Starscream?! What is it?”

“I do not wish to question your all-seeing wisdom, but I believe the Autobots are up to something again, beneath your Bridge this time.”

Megatron takes that news in stride, turning back to Optimus, the two sharing dialogue that fits so perfectly when looked at with the “One Shall Rise” arc in mind:

“Ah, misdirection, Optimus! You would have made a fine Decepticon!”

“I chose my side!”

Great stuff! Optimus blasts Megatron, winning the battle, and Megatron orders his ship to pick him and his huge army up.

Arcee performs Ratchet’s technobabble instructions perfectly, releasing the Energon flow. Ratchet’s pleased:

“I’ll ready the GroundBridge.”

Hold up! So you can just lock onto their signals again and bring them back? What happened to the danger of the vortex snapping? Does it only work one way? And if you could just do that, why didn’t you just put them on the ship when everyone realized that they didn’t have enough power to disable or destroy the Bridge anyway? Ah, whatever, we have like five minutes left.

Arcee gets shot by a vengeful Megatron, Optimus runs for his life as the Bridge explodes, Megatron is caught in the blast, Starscream announces that he’s leader, and the Autobots return to base.

Bumblebee carries Arcee in his arms, and everyone’s unsure if she’s alive. I like that Ratchet just kinda stands there and prays for her instead of, y’know, actually making sure she’s alive. No rush, Doc, just take your time. Jack seems to be the only one who’s genuinely concerned about her. Of course, we all know she’s alive because she hasn’t faded to grey, so she wakes up and she and Jack have and nice heart-to-heart:

“Jack, really. There are other motorcycles in the world.”

“But… you’re my first.”

Run wild, shippers!

Optimus surmises that not even Megatron could have survived ground zero, and he gives a rousing speech that basically says that if you mess with Earth, you get a face full of knives… from the good guys!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Darkness Rising, Part 5” is 7/10. While the action is plentiful and the scope suitably epic, the technobabble and inconsistencies on how the GroundBridge and the rest of the Autobot technology works is still clearly in the brainstorming stage. This would get cleaner as the series went on: the Nemesis would become untraceable thanks to a cloaking field, Ratchet would remain at base so as to activate and monitor the GroundBridge, the Dark Energon would remain nebulous on how it worked, but would gain more backstory and plausibility, and overall, the characters would grow organically and dimensionally.

Post arc follow-up: As an opening for a series, this episode and arc deliver a solid “bang for your buck” type of story, plenty of action, and surprising character complexity for a Transformers show, on a timeframe and TV budget that just make you gape; seriously, this thing looks and feels like a movie, yet its schedule and budget look almost laughably implausible for such a feet! They had a real opportunity here to explore these characters down the line, and thankfully, the writers did for the most part use what they had to great effect. Megatron would be brought back (obviously), but it would be gradual and threatening, and this would let characters like Starscream shine. This five-part opening really did set the stage well for what would become my favorite Transformer television show of all time. Focus on character and plot was at the forefront of the writers’ minds when they wrote this, with action coming as a necessity for the story, and not for its own sake. This was a solid way to kick off the new show, and it made you wanting more without feeling like you’d missed something along the way!

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